rn: important critiques of K. Armstrong article


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list (and others),

I wish I knew how to contact Karen Armstrong, author of the article I sent
out on Jan. 15, and which has solicited some very interesting replies. If
anyone is able to send her the following comments, please do so.

I think the most fundamental criticism comes from Paul Isaacs:

From: Paul Isaacs <•••@••.•••>
To: Jan Slakov <•••@••.•••>, •••@••.•••
Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2002 00:34:20 -0500
Subject: Re: K. Armstrong: the roots of terrorism

On 15-Jan-02, Jan Slakov [sent out]:

{ snip }

> We cannot understand the present crisis without taking into 
> account the painful process of modernization. In the 16th century, 
> the countries of Western Europe and, later, the American colonies 
> embarked on what historians have called "the Great Western 
> Transformation." Until then, all the great societies were based upon 
> a surplus of agriculture and so were economically vulnerable; they 
> soon found that they had grown beyond their limited resources. The 
> new Western societies, though, were based upon technology and 
> the constant reinvestment of capital. They found that they could 
> reproduce their resources indefinitely, and so could afford to 
> experiment with new ideas and products. In Western cultures 
> today, when a new kind of computer is invented, all the old office 
> equipment is thrown out. In the old agrarian societies, any project 
> that required such frequent change of the basic infrastructure was 
> likely to be shelved. Originality was not encouraged; instead people 
> had to concentrate on preserving what had been achieved.  

Hello Jan,

I am afraid that the above pararaph is terribly unsound.

The "new Western societies" were based on the use of energy and the continuous
expansion of capital.

Technology is not a "base". It is, as its name implies, the application of a
collection of techniques. The Oxford Concise defines it as "the study or use
of the mechanical arts and applied sciences".

"They found that they could reproduce their resources indefinitely". This
statement is, unfortunately, profoundly false. 

We are riding in fabulous technological car that has one tank of oil. When it
is gone - even the most wild eyed optimists don't give it more than 50 years,
more prudent estimates are that demand will exceed global supply around 2005
- there is no place to refill. "Modern" society has a life expectancy that is
less than that of a twenty year old. No agrarian society of the past was ever
as "economically vulnerable" as we are today. Our real "base" - oil energy -
is about to disappear.

Capital was not simply "constantly reinvested". It was constantly expanded. To
this day we think it is a calamity if the "economy" does not "grow".

"Instead people had to concentrate on preserving what had been achieved". The
"process of modernization" has relieved us of any sense of need to preserve
anything. It is a fatal mistake. For everyone.

We are not "modern" in any sense of the term. We have been aware of the need
for sustainability for at least 25 years now but we continue to wantonly
consume the planet's future. We are primitive barbarians. Vandals. Vikings
pillaging tomorrow's necessities from today's children.

There is no condemnation of "us" that is too harsh. It is a truth that we can
not seem to bring ourselves to either admit or learn.

{ snip }


Paul Isaacs
comment from Jan: 

"no condemnation of "us" that is too harsh? I do not go that far, but I
agree that Karen Armstrong's article fails to aknowledge how fundamentally
unsound "modern" society and its capitalist economy are. To add to the
things Paul points out, I note that she speaks of "developing countries...
making their own painful journey to modernity". I decided some years ago not
to refer to "Third World" countries as "developing", even if many of their
leaders and activists do, because this presumes that they should develop
towards a Western ("developed") type of society, whereas, in many ways, the
Western world could learn from societies of the "Third World" about living
sustainably, basic respect for each other and the earth, etc.

On the other hand, I cannot bring myself to see human evolution as a dead
end. While I too deplore the "development" which sees it as "innovative" to
be throwing computers out with each new wave of technology, I think the
development of democratic ideals is of real value. I notice that people are
most able to do positive work when they act from a base of appreciation of
their own culture, rather than from a sense of inadequacy. ... But can words
adequately express what I mean? Good heavens, we are worse than
"inadequate"! Certain aspects of our Western culture are appalling; it is
hard to feel hopeful when one looks at the reality of what our terribly
powerful culture is doing.

Maybe it helps that I know people who, to varying degrees, are succeeding in
living with minimal reliance on non-renewable resources in a way that does
not require renouncing their "Western" heritage. And I know others who use
more non-renewable resources, but who are inspiring in their ability to
promote ideals of democracy and tolerance in the world around them. Many
such people are on this list. I see the development of my own values and
thinking as something that is nurtured from our exchange. (And it seems to
me that Karen Armstrong's thinking would benefit from some of this dialogue

To close, I'll include two other comments below.
A friend who lived in Japan for 14 years, has been married to a Japanese
woman for 19 years, and has studied Japan, its culture and history for many
years wrote: 

Thanks for the article by Karen Armstrong.  It states well what I have been
thinking.  However, I was surprised that she did not mention, in more
detail, the Palestinian desire for statehood.  Instead, she tended to
concentrate on resentment to past colonialism.

But the following statement about Japan is completely erroneous.  If you
have a chance, you should ask her to remove her reference to Japan.  It
makes her look uninformed, even though I am sure she is not, when it comes
to other parts of her article.

I am referring to this passage:

> When Europeans began to explore the rest of the globe at the 
> beginning of the Great Western Transformation, they found an 
> Islamic presence almost everywhere they went: in the Middle East, 
> India, Persia, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan. 

Japan had no Muslims, and has never had, except since the 1970s when some
refugees came from places like Iran.
From: "Teresa Hawkes" <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: RE: rn:K. Armstrong: the roots of terrorism
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 11:15:42 -0600

This is a very sane posting. I am tired of posts that sound, quite frankly,
like a over-reactive spy novel in which a few sinister agents of evil
manipulate the populations of the world like puppets. Quite frankly, chaos
theory alone should show us all why this is in no way possible, which is
not to say that there aren't people who are greedy and evil in positions to
instigate actions incurring harm to many. Armstrong's assessment is
balanced. It shows us how all of us have contributed to the current state
of affairs!

Thank you for sharing this! Do you have contact information for Karen
Armstrong. I would like to reprint this on my Ezine, The Oracular Tree.

Teresa Hawkes
The Oracular Tree
Establish the habit of reverence

Jan's comment: Teresa's posting resonated with me, for I too feel a deep
need for reverence, ESPECIALLY in light of how terrible things are. ...
Another problem I have with Karen's Armstrong's posting is the lack of any
hint of suspicion that people high up in the U$ administration were involved
in the Sept. 11 attacks. This seems to me the most likely explanation for
what has happened, what is happening; to believe this as I do, and not fall
into cynicism requires some pretty heavy "doses" of reverence.

all the best, Jan